First unveiled at the 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show, the Alfa Romeo 164 could be considered the first of the 'New Generation' of Alfa Romeos. It was the last model to be developed while the marque was still independent (although it was launched a few months after the purchase of the company by Fiat), and was most notably the first large front-wheel drive Alfa. The Alfa Romeo 164 was essential to Fiat's plan to relaunch Alfa Romeo as a prestige car brand after the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The Alfa Romeo 164 was the last Alfa sedan to be sold in the North American market, where only the 3.0 L V6 was offered (12-valve from 1991 to 1993, 24-valve from 1994 to 1995). Nevertheless it was quite successful in Europe in attracting keen drivers who wanted a prestige sporting sedan, but were tired of German offerings such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
The 164 was discontinued and replaced by the Alfa Romeo 166 in 1998. 273,857 164's were produced.
The Alfa Romeo 164 was styled by Sergio Pininfarina in 1987, shortly after completing his contract to design the Ferrari Testarossa. The 164 can be seen to share several styling design ideas with the Ferrari expressed as a four-door sedan. In concern for heritage, the design is also the logical extension and successor of the Alfetta sedan, particularly the late-model 'Long Nose, Square Light'.
The 164 was the first Alfa to feature extensive use of computer aided design for calculating structural stresses, resulting in a very rigid but still relatively lightweight body. The Alfa Romeo 164 was based on the Type Four chassis shared with Lancia Thema, Fiat Croma and Saab 9000. Being the last to reach the market, the 164's bodyshell was the most aerodynamic of the four, and had a markedly sleeker profile and lower coefficient of drag. In order to permit this design variation, an exclusive front suspension with angled shock absorbers was developed. Most vehicles were fitted with Koni shock absorbers, while all Cloverleaf models were fitted with Bilstein units with a higher spring-rate.
The Alfa Romeo 164 was the first of the 'New Technology' Alfa Romeos, and is the technological basis of all Alfas to the present day.
The Alfa Romeo 164 also introduced dramatically improved build quality over previous Alfas, featuring galvanised steel frame and various body panels for the first time, ending the most common complaint by Alfa customers about rust problems encountered in older models such as the Alfasud and the Alfetta GTV.
Even though some purists feared of loss of character due to the adoption of front-wheel drive for the first time in an Alfa top-line sedan, the car proved itself as a supremely comfortable and sure-footed car, with a distinctively sporting character, inline with the marque's tradition. In fact, the motorpress of the day found its only fault to be some torque steer, particularly in earlier versions.
Equipped with the most complex wiring loom of any Alfa Romeo, the 164 was designed to compete in the executive car segment dominated by the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It offered better value for money in terms of technology (having three onboard computers, one for air conditioning, one for instrumentation, and one for engine management; air conditioning and instrument functions shared a multiple-mode coded Z-80-class microcontroller for dashboard functioning). Air-direction within the ventilation system was controlled by a pair of servomechanisms, which could give maintenance troubles in older vehicles; possible high part costs are alleviated by the commonality of these parts with the Alfa Romeo 166.
Also, the car had some very advanced features for its day, such as automatic climate control and electronically controlled dampening suspension (in the top-line Cloverleaf models and 164S). These shock absorbers actively reduced dampening in response to conditions to provide a dynamic compromise between road holding and comfort. It also boasted engines among the best in the industry, continuing the Alfa tradition.
Styled by Pininfarina, the Alfa Romeo 164's exterior bore a more than a passing resemblance to the Peugeot 405, launched in the same year, and also styled by Pininfarina. This is particularly apparent in the wedge-shaped body and in the longitudinal groove along the side of both cars. However, individual stylistic treatment given by features such as the integration of the traditional Alfa triangular grille, elongated in the hood, and the full-width rear light cluster distinguished the 164 from its French counterpart.
The 164's styling cues have been carried over to contemporary late-series 33s, and to the Alfa Romeo 155, and the aerodynamic wedge shape introduced in the 164 remains a visible design feature in all subsequent Alfa Romeos into the present day.
The base Alfa Romeo 164 engine was the 2.0 L Twin Spark I4 engine with two spark plugs per cylinder. Apart from that, this engine was also notable for having a two-stage valve timing system (before Honda's famous VTEC), and an induction valve blade-type system, aimed at improving low-end torque.
The block of the Twin Spark was the illustrious 2.0 L that had been a part of Alfa's road and race car history since the 1930s, and so gave buyers a strong sense of heritage, as well tremendous advantage in terms of reliability. New to the engine was the introduction of fuel injection, controlled by a Bosch Motronic system.
A very sophisticated engine, with a traditional Alfa chain-driven DOHC cylinder head, a single cooling fan and generator belt, drastically improved reliability and reduced parasitic friction. The battery of all 164s is placed in the trunk to achieve a close 50:50 weight distribution.
Next was a turbocharged 2.0 L 8-valve engine, derived from the Lancia Delta Integrale, and including an overboost feature. (this was later replaced by a turbocharged V6 in some markets).
The top-line engine was the 3.0 L Alfa V6, which in turn is derived from the 2.5L V6 originally from the Dino, in 12-valve and later 24-valve versions. The 3.0 L V6 was also used to power the four-wheel drive Q4 variant.
For some markets, a turbocharged 2.0 L V6 was developed, based from the 3.0 L engine with reduced displacement and a very sophisticated engine management system from Bosch.
Finally, there was also a turbodiesel version with an engine sourced from the Italian engine maker VM Motori. Rated at 125 PS (92 kW), even this weakest version was capable to propel the 164 past the 200 km/h (124 mph) mark.
2.0 L (1995 cc) 8-valve Twin Spark I4, 144 hp DIN (106 kW) and 187 Nm (138 ft.lbf)
1987 - Alfa Romeo 164 unveiled at Frankfurt Motor Show